The first short story in Schuyler Herntrom’s collection, Thune’s Vision, is The Challenger’s Garland, is the worst thing I’ve ever read by Mr. Hernstrom.
If you’ve been following this blog you know that doesn’t tell you much. His stories included in the first two issues of Cirsova Magazine, were brilliant, and this very brief tale doesn’t reach those heights. It’s still a great story and highly recommended.
The plot is as epic as it is simple, Death’s Champion rides forth to challenge the unbeaten White Knight. It’s a basic fight between the white hat and the black hat with the former representing everything good and decent and the latter representing only death and destruction, and yet the story reflects the myriad subtleties that lurk within the details of that constant battle on a fallen earth.
The story does feel like a bit of an experiment – can one strip away the chrome that is normally added to modern versions of a battle between black and white and still wind up with an interesting story? It also reads like a first time author playing with the concept of a fairy tale tone, pace, and theme. These are not complaints, merely observations. If anything, they add to the charm of the piece.
Here’s a brief excerpt that jumped out at me:
In the Kinniverse jungle the apes scattered from his shadow, scurrying up the massive trees in which stood their wondrous city. They peered down from latticed towers, unwilling to shower the lone horseman with missiles, as was their usual practice. The towering trees shrank as the jungle ended.
He entered a land of rolling hills and verdant pastures.
Molok dismounted, walking through a field of flowers. The grass was still fresh with dew. Ahead he saw the silhouette of a young woman. She turned upon the hearing his heavy steps.
“I hear the step of an armored knight. Are you from the citadel?”
Molok looked into her eyes, two orbs of milky white without iris or pupil.
That kind of easy and evocative writing, that taps into the timeless tropes of myth and legend, is a joy to read.
For another take on this book, here’s The Frisky Pagan.